Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto


by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide


REVIEW by Jolynn Baldwin

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
by Aimee Bender
Random House/Anchor (reprint edition)
April 2011
Paperback: 304 pages, ISBN: 978-0385720960

I love cake. Chocolate cake, vanilla cake, pineapple upside down, and even (read: especially) that cherry chip kind that comes from a box. In my mind, cake is a beautiful thing. People only have cakes on the happiest occasions.


How can cake be sad?!

In her novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender finds a way to make cake seem not just sad, but able to communicate a range of emotions which no food, not even a full Vegas buffet, can ordinarily express.

I’ll admit: if there’s going to be a sad cake, lemon makes the most sense. It’s appropriate, then, that Rose Edelstein asks her mother for lemon cake with chocolate icing for her ninth birthday, because, when Rose sneaks a warm piece of cake from the pan and slathers it in rich, drippy chocolate icing, she experiences more than the delectable spongy morsel she anticipates. In addition to tasting the sugar, flour, lemon peel, and eggs that make up the cake, Rose tastes the deep and debilitating loneliness her mother feels but says nothing about.

Rose’s ability to taste emotions is not exclusive to her mother; she can taste the emotions of whomever makes the food she eats. When she bites into a sandwich her brother has made, she is overwhelmed by the way it makes her feel hollow and scared—the reader’s first indicator that Rose isn’t the only one in this cast of characters who is hiding something. Rose is often so devastated by the feelings she tastes that she loses focus on the world around her.

I spent lunchtime at the porcelain base of the drinking fountain, which was half stopped up with pink gum, taking sip after sip of the warm metallic water that pushed through old pipes from plumbing built in the twenties, pouring rust and fluoride into my mouth, trying to erase my peanut-butter sandwich.
The beauty of Bender’s storytelling is that somewhere in the midst of this surreal, epicurean coming-of-age story, readers will see themselves—they will understand, in ways both large and small, exactly what Rose is feeling. Bender’s writing is able to convey, in such strange worlds and stunning language, those experiences and emotions that resonate so deeply in everyone: the beautiful agony of first love; the pain that secrets are capable of causing; the moment when devotion and unwavering trust in a parent disintegrates and the world becomes a different, far more scary place; what breathing feels like the moment after you realize your life has just changed forever. In The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, all of this happens in mysterious ways and under magical circumstances, but we, as readers, are all too aware of the reality lying at the core of this world. A heartbreaking reality that is, ironically, understood so much more absolutely because of its fantastical elements.
“When [mom’s] birthday rolled around, I baked her a coconut cake with cream-cheese frosting, and we sat across from each other at the table with big textured slices. Eight, whispered my cake. You still just want to go back to eight, when you didn’t know much about anything.”

August 31, 2011